Stress can trigger all types of anxiety and in some cases, where people have experienced extreme stress resulting from a trauma, be it a car accident or abuse, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can develop.
For those suffering from PTSD, flashbacks and nightmares are common and can cause intense anxiety and even panic attacks. If left untreated, PTSD can lead to a myriad other problems ranging from depression and difficulty interacting socially to substance abuse.
While anti-depressants and mood stabilisers are commonly prescribed for PTSD, they are only designed to manage the physical symptoms, often with little success. CBD, however, interacts with the endocannabinoid system – which regulates everything from mood to memory – to target both the physical and behavioural responses to stress. What this means is that CBD has the potential to not only alleviate the day-to-day symptoms of PTSD, such as anxiety, insomnia and brain fog, but may also suppress fear-based memory.
When exposed to a stressful experience, the sympathetic nervous system is activated, signalling the body to produce adrenaline, which triggers your ‘fight or flight’ response. Usually, the nervous system will normalise again shortly after the stressful event has happened, but with PTSD it doesn’t and you remain in this heightened state for much longer. By acting on particular receptors in the endocannabinoid system, CBD helps to stabilise the nervous system, which in turn slows down the physical reactions triggered by the release of adrenaline –think increased blood pressure, a racing heart and excessive sweating.
Equally important is CBD’s potential to positively impact the processing of memory. For PTSD sufferers, the memory of their trauma triggers feelings of fear and panic. While exposure therapy is often recommended to help patients learn to process the memory of their trauma better, it can be a long road to recovery. CBD, however, might just offer more immediate results. Research suggests that CBD can help to improve the reactions related to the recall of traumatic events by acting on the CB1 receptors, which are linked to behavioural responses. A study* of mice showed that blocking the action of the CB1 receptors assisted with the extinction of unpleasant memories. In turn CBD was able to improve the cardiovascular responses caused by stress as well deliver an anti-anxiety effect.
But CBD’s benefits go beyond its ability to regulate the body’s stress response and emotional processing. It is also known to promote better sleep. Nightmares and flashbacks make it difficult for PTSD patients to get good quality sleep, which can negatively impact their mood causing increased anxiety and depression. Whether it’s insomnia or broken sleep, CBD helps to calm the mind, making it easier to fall (and stay) asleep.
While more large-scale scientific studies in humans are needed, growing anecdotal evidence, particularly involving veterans of war, points to CBD’s potential as an effective and safe therapeutic treatment for PTSD – and one that is becoming more widely accepted.